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NCAA Men's Hockey Review: The First Half

We're halfway through the NCAA hockey season, and we'll take a break from focusing on the women's side to talk about the men. Unlike the women, 16 teams get into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. Two of the six conferences seem to be well ahead of the others, and unlike other recent seasons, neither conference is the ECAC.

The Two Best Conferences are Hockey East and the NCHC

Currently, college hockey is dominated by the NCHC and Hockey East. The top two teams in the USCHO poll are long-time rivals Boston College and Boston University, while North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have also held the top spot this season; Wisconsin and Minnesota have fallen in the rankings since, and now sit near the bottom of the top 10.

6 of the 11 teams in Hockey East are actively in the top 20 in the USCHO rankings, while two others, Merrimack and Northeastern, are receiving votes; BC and BU are ranked first and second, respectively, while Maine is ranked as the 8th team, Providence is ranked 10th, UMass is ranked 11th, and New Hampshire is ranked 16th. Meanwhile, North Dakota and Denver head the NCHC at fourth and fifth, respectively, and Western Michigan is ranked 12th, St. Cloud is 14th, Colorado College is 20th, while Omaha is also receiving votes.

The ECAC and Big Ten are a Step Behind

Both conferences have strong top ends, with defending National Champions Quinnipiac and Cornell leading the ECAC and Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota leading the Big Ten. The Big Ten is strong overall, with Ohio State being the lowest ranked in PairWise at 27th, but the bottom half of the ECAC is awful.

Seven of the ECAC's 12 teams are ranked 44th or lower in the PairWise rankings: Colgate is 44th, Harvard is 46th, Princeton 48th, St. Lawrence 54th, Brown 55th, Yale 56th, and RPI 58th. Quinnipiac is the only team from the ECAC that looks like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament this year, and the only other teams that look remotely capable of going on a run and making it are Cornell, Clarkson, and potentially Dartmouth if they can stop tying games and start winning them.

The Resurgence of Two Hockey East Teams Has Been the Surprise of the Season

The resurgence of Maine and Boston College, both currently ranked within the top five in the PairWise rankings, has been the surprise of the season.

Maine, who hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2012, is by far the bigger surprise. They currently sit at 10-3-1, with their losses coming on the road against Quinnipiac and Boston University (twice), but they have beat teams like Quinnipiac, Merrimack (twice), Boston College, and New Hampshire; the Black Bears are third in the PairWise rankings and are ranked eighth in the USCHO poll, and seem like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time without Shawn Walsh or Tim Whitehead at the helm.

Meanwhile, BC has gone from making one NCAA Tournament since 2016 to being ranked first in the USCHO poll as of December 11. While they were ranked sixth in the preseason poll, they weren't expected to be as good as they are now. In the Eagles’ second season under head coach Greg Brown, they have a legitimate argument for being the top team in the country.

In a Season Full of Upsets, the Parity of College Hockey Remains

This season, it seems the same thing keeps happening over and over again: a team takes over the number one ranking, only to lose in a bewildering upset a couple of weeks later. It started on October 13, when preseason number one Boston University fell to New Hampshire; Minnesota took over the top spot, and they would hold it for a few weeks before they fell in back-to-back home games against Wisconsin, then ranked 14th at the time. After Minnesota's loss, Boston College took over the top spot, and they would hold it for two weeks before losing and tying in two home games against 13th-ranked Maine.

Wisconsin then took over the number one spot, but they would only hold it for one week before losing two games in East Lansing to 11th-ranked Michigan State. North Dakota took control of the top ranking, and they would trade it with Boston College for a few weeks before falling in two home games against unranked Colorado College on December 8 and 9. Boston College assumed the number one spot on December 11, and no other poll has been released since.

[Editors Note: Go Terriers]

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